When Howard Gordon was in 7th grade, he wrote a science fiction novel. He knew he wanted to write early on in life, but it was his love of television that brought him to Los Angeles to try his hand at it. He says that it was luck that initially helped him land work, but it's his knack for spinning creative stories that have kept him hard at work in Hollywood for 25 years.
No doubt, Gordon has written for at least one show you've loved. His credits include The X-Files, Beauty and the Beast, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, amongst others. He's best known, though, as the former showrunner and executive producer of 24. More recently, he co-created the Showtime series Homeland, which just won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, and will serve as executive producer and showrunner for the forthcoming NBC sci-fi series, Awake.
Somehow, Gordon also managed to find the time to write a new novel. Hard Target is the sequel to his first offering, Gideon's War. Like his television work, Gordon's novels are packed with suspense, intrigue and a good dose of action. He'll be signing copies at Diesel Bookstore in Brentwood tonight at 7 p.m.
You've worked in TV for so long. How was the transition into writing a novel?
TV is such a collaborative medium and, in many ways, a competitive medium as well. You're always negotiating with your fellow writers, with the studio, with the network, with the actors. It's a big, collective process under the best of circumstances. Writing a novel is so much more individual. It's truly you and a page and a reader.
In many ways, telling a story is telling a story, but the mediums are very, very different, not just in how they tell a story, but how you get to tell a story. For me, it was a big relief from some of the stresses that come with producing and writing for television.
Are there new stresses that come up when you're working solo?
Yeah, there is a lot of work.
I had a tremendous editor and a lot of very good friends who were part of the process, but it isn't like when you hit a block in a TV show, where you can bring it to a writer's room — which is hopefully a group very smart people — and you can solve a problem. Here, you find yourself a little more out on a limb by yourself. But, that also has its advantages.
I would say that my greater stress, and that was specific to me, was trying to do both and maintain my day job and find the time to write a novel. The first one, I did at least most of it, or half of it, during the writer's strike. Because I got a two-book deal out of it, I had to sort of make a deadline.
In my business, when you write a pilot, you don't even know whether the pilot will get shot, let alone they pick up the series. In this case, I happened to have two shows. It was a perfect storm in the be careful what you wish for department. I had both Homeland and Awake that got picked up and the contract for Hard Target that was due. It was a challenge.
Did you develop any tricks to managing your time?
The only trick is to get as little sleep as possible.
I had to be very hyper-focused. That really challenged a part of me that I've cultivated after running shows, which is really that have to have a hyper-intense focus on a lot of things. I think that served me very well in writing the book. I could really achieve a lot if I had half-hour or an hour or two hours. I could really get a lot done in a short period of time.
24 had such a unique sense of pacing. Did that sense of immediacy and urgency in 24 become evident when you were working on Hard Target?
Very much so. I admit that I was daunted by even the idea of writing a novel. I'm a fan of thrillers, both movies and books, and I felt like it was a genre that I felt very comfortable in, particularly because of 24. I'm sure that the story-telling was very informed by my experience on 24, in some ways to the detriment of the book. In other words, I really think that writing a book, [in] a genre that is a thriller, is its own medium and I'm really at the beginning of that learning curve.
I've done 25 years of television and, of course, still I'm far from knowing everything. I've certainly done a lot and have a lot of experience there. Whereas, trying to tell a story in 300 pages and understanding when to apply the brake and when to accelerator was very different, and how to create and induce tension for the reader and have them keep reading. That was always my goal, whether its TV or books, to keep them reading or watching. Whatever strange alchemy makes something compelling, that was really my touchstone.
Many of the shows you've worked on have large fan bases. Do you interact with fans often or go to events like Comic-Con?
I've been going to Comic-Con for various reasons, mostly because it's been usurped by all the major media companies, no matter what show I'm working on, whether it's Homeland or 24 or Angel.
I don't care how big the audience is, but I love the fact that I've been on shows that have very enthusiastic audiences, going back to Beauty and the Beast. I don't know if you remember that, but it was with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton on CBS. Even that, which was a kind of small — well it wasn't that small, by today's standards, it would have been an out of the box hit. But, back on CBS, it was a Friday night show and on at 8 or 9 o'clock, but it had a great fan base and conventions and all that.
You've been a part of so many shows that really changed TV. Do you consciously look for projects that are a little different, a little out there?
I'm always drawn to shows that are different from what's been done before and not for the sake of change, but because that's what interests me and, in some cases, the fans and the audience. I have to be interested in something and believe in it before I can do it with any kind of vigor.